Better Coordination For Better Social Protection : Dr. Lok Nath Bhusal

With the emergence of complex uncertainties in human lives and a growing individualistic lifestyle, the need for life-cycle-based social security has multiplied by many folds. For the last couple of years, governments around the world have expanded their social face through a number of social protection schemes to address these needs.

Social protection schemes

Following various policy directions of the government, different agencies of the Government of Nepal have been designing and implementing various social protection schemes in the country. Various development partners are also investing their crucial resources for extending the level and coverage of social protection benefits. Such schemes and external support are very fragmented and are in need of an integrated approach for ensuring their effectiveness.

Different types of non-contributory social protection, namely social assistance, schemes have been implemented by different government agencies. The Ministry of Health and Population provides a number of social protection benefits to a number of targeted beneficiaries. Such benefits range from providing basic health services to maternity benefits, such as allowances for delivering at hospitals.

The Ministry of Education provides education related social protection benefits such as free public education, free school textbooks and special education to targeted beneficiaries. It also provides a number of scholarships to the targeted and deserving students every year. The Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare runs a host of targeted social protection schemes for women, children, disabled and victims of various types of violence.

The Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development implements non-contributory targeted social protection programmes for the elderly, widows and other specified groups nationwide. Its social assistance programmes, although celebrated across the least developed world, have frequently been reported as not reaching the targeted beneficiaries. In several villages, the amount intended for the elderly, widows and other targeted recipients have ended up in the pockets of local level public officials. In the absence of an updated database system, allowances of the elderly who have died have been taken away by these officials.

The Ministry of Agriculture provides a number of grants to farmers and other targeted groups with the purpose of increasing agriculture production and productivity.  The Ministry of Industry and Commerce also provide quite a number of subsidies to promote industry and trade.

The Poverty Alleviation Fund has been implementing a host of programmes and projects in about 50 districts, targeting the abject poor, marginalised and deprived communities. In financial terms it is probably the largest welfare programme in the country for reducing different dimensions of poverty.

A number of contributory social protection, namely social insurance, schemes have been conducted by a number of government and semi-government agencies. Such schemes are mostly intended for the workers in the formal sector of the economy. The benefits provided by the Employees’ Provident Fund, Citizen Investment Trust and a number of public/private insurance companies are examples of contributory social protection schemes.

Public works programmes, such as Food for Work in Karnali, also largely falls under this category of social protection. The latest innovations in social insurance have been the insurance schemes in agriculture and livestock. All such contributory schemes help minimise livelihood vulnerabilities and risks.

The above-stated social protection schemes, which cost billions of rupees to the state, are largely uncoordinated. Compared to the social protection systems in advanced countries, it has been frequently pointed out that there is very weak coordination both in the design and implementation of social protection policies and programmes in Nepal. Consequently, some of them reach the intended beneficiaries but many do not. There are both inclusion and exclusion errors in these schemes, and thus poverty still persists amongst a large section of our population.

Consequently, such schemes are fragmented and sometimes overlapping, often increasing the administrative and financial burden to the government. Experiences from other countries reveal that better coordination and integration both at the policy and operational levels can significantly reduce the administrative and financial costs, and social protection coverage can be extended.

Realising this, the Government of Nepal, at one level, has been formulating a National Framework for Social Protection with the purpose of providing a holistic vision for designing and implementing social protection policies and programmes in the country in a coordinated manner. A team headed by the member-secretary of the National Planning Commission is expected to finalise the framework identifying the prioritised social protection schemes.

Social Security Fund

At the other level, the formulation of a new integrated Social Security Act (Bill) is going to provide a solid legal foundation for the Social Security Fund (SSF). The bill envisions the SSF as an agency for coordinating all types of social protection schemes in the country. Given its institutional and managerial capacity, initially the SSF will design and implement contributory social security schemes for the workers in the formal sector.

While the International Labour Organisation (ILO), through its Convention No. 102 of 1952 and following the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has recommended providing wide-ranging social security schemes for the well-being of humanity, the SSF will gradually develop its capacity to cover the informal sector workers in its social security schemes.

Indeed, the aim should be to cover all the citizens of the country – from the president to the potato growers. It should be noted here that the ILO, having its mandate to promote social protection in its member states, has been providing technical support to the SSF in designing and implementing different social security schemes.

To truly meet the constitutional provision for ensuring social protection as a fundamental right of citizens, the above-stated two initiatives are most necessary, but they are not clearly sufficient. Government and development partners must accomplish a number of other related tasks in a highly coordinated manner at the political, legal, institutional, financial and managerial levels to ensure that no one is left out from the coverage of genuine social protection schemes.

In the presence of a fragmented social protection system in the country, developing a consensus picture of a better coordinated social protection system should be the first step. Such effort will save money while ensuring social protection to all.

(Dr. Bhusal, a doctorate in Social Protection and Poverty from Oxford Brookes University UK, is associated with ILO-Kathmandu. Views expressed here are personal.)

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